black history, nonfiction corner, sports

Nonfiction Corner – Take A Picture of Me, James VanDerZee/The Replay

Take A Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee (Lee & Low Books)
Written by Andrea J. Loney
Illustrated by Keith Mallett

For ages: 7-12
The novelty of having someone take a picture of you has lost some of its magic as we walk around with digital cameras in our pockets all the time. Of course, people are taking pictures more than ever now because of its ease, but in the early years of the analog camera, it was a memorable moment. James VanDerZee was a young boy growing up in Lenox, Massachusetts, when he saw a camera for the first time. The book tells us how he got a camera as a young man, turning the closet in his bedroom into a makeshift dark room. Reaching adulthood, James moves to Harlem, which is undergoing a cultural transformation at the time. He captures that movement in photographs that would end up being hidden for decades. Eventually, his work was discovered and put on exhibition garnering him the rightful praise he deserved.

Take a Picture of Me is a beautiful exploration of a time in America when Black people stepped beyond the white perceptions of merely “freed slaves.” Their cultural forms of music, dance, fashion, and literature came to captivate even white audiences. James preserved this time in moments, photographing everyone from politicians to athletes to musicians to the poor. This book has a beautiful anecdote where his white boss tells James to stay in the back as people wouldn’t want their photo taken by a Black person. His boss’s eventual vacation becomes a proving ground for James. When the big guy returns, he finds people lined up because of the attention to detail James puts into his work. The photographer even did touch-ups to enhance his subjects and emphasize elements of their beauty that got lost in the photos. This is another excellent book to include in a school library to teach us about historical figures we’ve almost lost to time.

The Replay: 25 Greatest Moments in Sports History (Harry N. Abrams)
Written by Adam Skinner
Illustrated by Mai Ly Degnan

For ages: 7-12
I was the sort of kid that loved richly illustrated books that I could pour over for hours, scanning images for detail. The Replay is a book custom-made for that sort of reader featuring twenty-five compelling moments from modern sports history. Included are many athletes you might expect: Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, and Jackie Robinson. The author includes moments outside of purely American athletes, though. I appreciated the inclusion of Kaori Icho, the female Japanese wrestler who won four gold medals at four separate Olympics. Germany beating Brazil in the 2014 World Cup is here too. In addition, I learned about Ma Long, the Chinese table tennis player who was the world champion in his sport for thirty-four consecutive months, the only time that has been accomplished.

What propels this book to another level are Mai Ly Degnan’s illustrations. After the initial text explaining the event and why it is remarkable, the drawings take us step-by-step through the winning moments. For example, Jackie Robinson’s historic breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball shows us when the manager tells him to get ready to bat. We see Jackie can bunt his way to first and then, with each consecutive batter, work his way to home plate. Simone Biles’s gold medal-winning floor exercise is broken down with each tumbling pass and shown step by step as the gymnast contorts herself through the air. The Replay is a no-brainer if you have a young reader passionate about sports. If you have a sports fan who is a reluctant reader, I will guarantee they will spend hours reading and re-reading this one.

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